Thursday, 8 November 2018
Address to Seanad Éireann by Ms Deirdre Hargey, Lord Mayor of Belfast
Thar ceann Seanad Éireann, is mian liom fáilte ó chroí a chur roimh Ardmhéara Bhéal Feirste, an Comhairleoir Deirdre Hargey, a bhfuil cuireadh tugtha di ag Seanad Éireann an Teach a aitheasc de réir Bhuanordú 57(2) lena ndéantar foráil maidir le haitheasc ag ionadaí agus daoine sa saol poiblí agus sibhialta. On behalf of Seanad Éireann I warmly welcome the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Deirdre Hargey, who has been invited to address the House in accordance with Standing Order 57(2), which provides for addresses by representatives and persons in civic and public life. She is accompanied by the chief executive of Belfast City Council, Ms Suzanne Wylie, who I also warmly welcome to the House. I congratulate Ms Hargey on her election as Lord Mayor earlier this year and wish her well in her important role. I also congratulate her on being the first Sinn Féin female mayor of Belfast.
It is very timely for the House to hear from the Lord Mayor of Belfast in light of the current issues of mutual concern in the context of the Good Friday Agreement, including the current absence of the devolved power-sharing institutions in Northern Ireland and the North-South Ministerial Council, as well as the impact of Brexit on the island as a whole. I visited Belfast last week and had the pleasure of visiting Belfast City Hall, where I met the Lord Mayor and had an in-depth discussion with her on issues of mutual concern. Although we debate many topics in this House, all Members agree that the Good Friday Agreement is the indispensable framework for relations on this island. I am sure that will frame our discussion today, as it does all of our debates on Northern Ireland. The success of the Good Friday Agreement in securing peace and harnessing the opportunities of that peace for people and communities North and South is perhaps one of the greatest achievements of our time.
The challenges presented by the decision of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union will be felt in all 27 remaining member states for many years to come and it goes without saying that the challenges for Ireland are immense. The Government remains intensely engaged on Brexit, working closely with our EU partners to ensure that the agreement and the gains and benefits of the peace process are protected and upheld in the outcome of the Article 50 negotiations with the UK, not least in ensuring that there will be no hard border on the island. These are issues of the utmost significance for our country and this House is intensely engaged on them.
In recognition of the potential consequences of the decision of the United Kingdom to leave the EU, the Seanad established a special select committee to consider the implications of the withdrawal for Ireland and to suggest some possible solutions to identifiable problems. To support its thinking and considerations, the committee organised nine days of public hearings with former taoisigh and Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Trade, sectoral experts, representatives of relevant organisations, local authorities, all-island bodies and many more. It launched a report last year in the hope that it would inform the negotiations as member states worked to manage this event that has shaken the political landscape.
Members will recall that the Tánaiste took part in statements in the House on Brexit earlier this week. We regularly consider matters pertaining to Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement. This reflects the fact that while the responsibility to uphold, protect and advance the Good Friday Agreement is for the two Governments as co-guarantors of the agreement, it is also one for all political representatives and parties North and South and across these islands. Civic society, which does much to support and actualise the peace process and the task of reconciliation, also has an important role to play. Members of this House participate in the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly and in the North-South Inter-Parliamentary Association as important forums for exchange provided for under the Good Friday Agreement. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement also plays an important role in considering and informing debate on the agreement and on cross-Border co-operation.
In the wider institutional and political context, it is worthwhile for the House to be addressed by the Lord Mayor, the elected leader of Belfast City Council. It would be welcome for this House to hear from representatives of other city and county councils in Northern Ireland to inform our ongoing consideration of and engagement on matters pertaining to Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement. Like all local authorities, Belfast City Council has a very broad and important remit in the delivery of public services. It also plays a vital role in addressing issues that can arise at community levels in Belfast and elsewhere in Northern Ireland following on from the legacy of the Troubles. The work of the council in the area of good relations also contributes in a meaningful and direct way to the principles and objectives of the Good Friday Agreement, including the achievement of tolerance, mutual trust and reconciliation. Although the North-South Ministerial Council cannot currently meet in the absence of the power-sharing Executive, fortunately, co-operation and exchange between local authorities North and South continues, as it always has, on a practical basis and in support of local and regional economies.
B'fhéidir gur mhaith leis an Ardmhéara cuid de na seacht gceisteanna seo a lua ina óráid. Leis na focail tosaigh fáilteacha seo, is pléisiúr é dom anois cuireadh a thabhairt di Seanad Éireann a aitheasc. These are some of the issues which the Lord Mayor may wish to address in her speech. With these welcoming introductory remarks, it is my pleasures to invite her to address Seanad Éireann. I again thank her for the courteous and kind welcome she offered me in Belfast last week.
Ms Deirdre Hargey:
I know the Cathaoirleach is unwell today as we are both suffering from a sinus infection. I do not know who infected who, but I wish him well in his recovery.
On behalf of Belfast City Council and the people of Belfast, I send sincere condolences to the family and friends of Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin on his passing today. His contribution to the arts across the island of Ireland and beyond is worthy of great recognition.
I am joined by the chief executive of Belfast City Council, Ms Suzanne Wylie. We are delighted to be here and I, as Lord Mayor, am very pleased to have the opportunity to address Seanad Éireann. This is an historic and symbolic occasion not only because it is the first time that a mayor of Belfast has addressed this forum but also because it gives me the opportunity to speak about the city I love. It is a privilege to be here to speak about and represent Belfast and to look for potential links and collaborative working between us. The invitation I received is a very important gesture of friendship between the Seanad, Seanadóirí, the people represented by Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas and the people of Belfast and its elected city council.
Belfast is Ireland's second city and we are the second-largest council on the island. Belfast is changing and that is reflective of a changing Ireland. The most notable and welcome change is that we now have peace. I was 18 years of age when the Good Friday Agreement was endorsed by the people of Ireland and I am glad to say that I voted "Yes" in that referendum. It is against that backdrop that I, as mayor, and other elected members of Belfast City Council perform our daily duties and that I am here today.
The Cathaoirleach visited me last week in Belfast ahead of today's historic address to talk about the link between our two main cities and the huge potential our cities could have in the time ahead. Dublin and Belfast are two cities that, together, can accomplish much to benefit their people and Ireland as a whole. At that meeting we discussed the foundation of the memorandum of understanding signed in 2014 by the mayors of Dublin and Belfast and the opportunities that has given us through closer co-operation between the two cities and the strengthening of links along the economic corridor between them. The Cathaoirleach and I affirmed that in Belfast last week.
Other opportunities also present themselves in terms of Belfast working with other cities across the island, such as Galway, which will be the European capital of culture in 2020.Belfast bid for the European Capital of Culture but, unfortunately, because of the Brexit scenario, we could not proceed. We do not want this to stop us, however. We want to look at exploring cultural links, to work with Galway City Council and to develop these cultural links, not just across the island of Ireland, but in a European dimension as well. We believe we can work with a variety of cities right across this island. This is acutely important in the context of Brexit. It is so important we continue to forge new and stronger bonds which encourage and spread ideas of knowledge, equality and prosperity.
I am set to launch my mayor's charter in December. This declaration will set out what I am focusing on during my term in office under the theme "a Belfast for all". The three pillars of my charter are equality, empowerment and prosperity. Inclusive growth is the foundation to this, a crucial underpinning to ensure we focus on equality of outcome, not just equality of opportunity. While developing this strategy I have engaged with local people across the city and key campaign groups that have taken to the streets in recent years to demand their equal rights with the rest of society. I know that this merges with the campaigns that have taken to the streets of Dublin and the South overall. I have heard many stories of inequality, class struggle, barriers to inclusion and denial of rights.
As the two largest cities in Ireland, Belfast and Dublin and the corridor between them drive much of our economic development. We know that the full potential of the Dublin-Belfast corridor has yet to be realised. The Belfast Agenda, our community plan for Belfast, sets out ambitious plans for our city to grow by 2035. In the plan we said we would grow our city population by at least 66,000, making housing a priority, particularly much-needed social and public housing. In Belfast we have a housing crisis, with up to 10,000 people on the waiting list. I know that this matches with cities such as Dublin. I believe we can work collectively to overcome these challenges and support families into much-needed housing. We have also said we will support an additional 46,000 better paid jobs. This is an increase of 20% in both housing and employment.
We also want to see the creation of a youth pledge which guarantees that every young person in the city of Belfast who leaves school at 16 will have a pathway. They will be in education or move into employment or training and further upskilling. Through our inclusive growth framework, our priorities are clear. They are to create more and better jobs, promote investment, make life better for all residents, create a competitive and sustainable city and connect people to these opportunities. I must stress again, however, the importance of creating equality of outcome and not just equality of opportunity if we are serious about connecting our most deprived communities to this growth. We are ambitious for our city and focused on ensuring we deliver. As we know, a Belfast that is thriving has an impact beyond the city boundaries. If Belfast does well, we know that impact goes much further. If Dublin and Belfast do well and we have that connection along the eastern corridor, the ripple effect will travel much further, particularly if we have inclusive growth as a key.
Having a vision in place helps us to articulate our case for support and investment at the highest level. The Belfast Region City Deal is a significant part of the jigsaw in making our city work. We are seeking to secure up to €1 billion of co-investment over the next ten years with a real focus on innovation, regeneration led by digital tourism, and infrastructure to connect people to jobs and services. Last week we heard the announcement that we have secured the first £350 million in this city deal from the British Treasury. This deal has an impact on a population of up to 1.1 million people living along the eastern seaboard in the North. It stretches as far as Newry and can help build the economic corridor through to Dublin and beyond, with one of the key infrastructural projects being the southern relief road seeking to link Down with Louth.
We want to tap further into the growing tourism potential. Belfast is a vibrant city. Our tourism statistics show that overnight visitor stays have increased by 50%, overnight tourism spends have increased by 53% and the number of hotel rooms in Belfast has increased by 50%. This year alone we have seen over £150 million in hotel investments and the creation of more than 1,000 additional hotel rooms in the city. Our Belfast tourism agenda goal is ambitious, doubling out-of-state visitor spend by generating 1.9 million overnight stays by 2021. We are determined to make this happen. The Belfast Waterfront Hall and convention centre was named best event space in 2017. We have Titanic Belfast, the world's leading tourist attraction in 2016, and we are the Lonely Planet's number one tourist destination to visit in 2018. Only this week, Belfast picked up the award for world's best food destination at the International Travel and Tourism Awards in London.
The strong collaborative spur between local government, communities, our businesses, educationalists and innovators sees us working hand in hand to deliver for the city. We have a growing talent to be proud of. We are home to two respected universities in Queen's University and Ulster University and two fantastic teacher training colleges in Stranmillis University College and St. Mary's University College, with links to sporting endeavours and pioneering in the development of Irish-medium educational resources for many schools, colleges and other institutions not just in the city but right across Ireland. We also have Belfast Metropolitan College. We have a young population, with a student population across the universities of around 80,000 young people. We also have a well educated population, with 34% of our working population having a degree level or higher level of education.
Our communities are strong and evolving well after many years of conflict. I have been personally involved in reconciliation work at a community level right across Belfast and its communities over many years. I am regularly in the company of people from all backgrounds, whether political activists, elected representatives, community activists, trade unionists, church leaders or members of wider civic society. In this regard, I commend Seanadóir Marshall on his role in this Chamber and the distinctive contribution he makes in bringing to it a perspective of the unionist community, particularly that of people from a rural background. The Seanad has a unique quality to it in that it can be home to many people living outside the boundaries of this State and who, in the case of Seanadóir Marshall, may not share the broader constitutional aspirations of the Seanad. He has a place in it, however, and, more important, a voice. Seanadóir Marshall, like Seanadóir Ó Donnghaile, a former mayor and councillor for Belfast, have both brought a distinctive Northern experience and perspective to the Chamber, and I am sure this is to the benefit of both Houses and their Members, Seanadóirí and Deputies.
Belfast is a forward-thinking, dynamic and ambitious city driven by talent and ready to invest, promoting our city as an attractive place. This is key in delivering our Belfast Agenda ambitions. We have welcomed a number of high-profile investments over the past 12 months from a range of sectors, including financial services, cybersecurity, software and business services, and we are proud of our international relationships, which are bearing fruit. We are delighted that State Street, for example, a global insurance firm with headquarters in our sister city of Boston and a turnover of $11.17 billion, has selected Belfast for its office location. We have developed a competitive advantage and partnership, working in tandem with partners across the city, including Invest Northern Ireland, to develop brand Belfast as a location for a number of other global growth sector firms. As such, we are hopeful for more positive announcements in the near future because Belfast is a city of aspiration and surprises. We are the number one global destination for FinTech investment and the second most successful destination after London for attracting US tradeable services foreign direct investment, FDI, projects. We are home to one of Europe's largest cybersecurity research centres, the Centre for Secure Information Technologies, CSIT, putting us front and centre of research and delivery. We are also home to one of the fastest-growing creative clusters anywhere on these islands and two film studios.
I hope this gives the House an idea of the city in 2018 and our priorities ahead. It shows we can be a strong partner to Dublin and cities such as Cork, Galway and Limerick and that collectively and collaboratively we can become a place that fosters talent, ideas and prosperity, qualities that will breed and strengthen new links.Brexit is a real challenge for my city as it is for us all. Just a couple of weeks ago, I attended a rally in front of Belfast City Hall which saw thousands of people from across the political spectrum and all age groups, gender profiles and classes come together to raise their concerns and to reinforce the fact that the majority in the North voted to remain. They were concerned that their voices were not being heard in the debate and they pushed for the Irish and British Governments to listen acutely to the voices of the population. One of the unforeseen consequences of the Brexit referendum in the North, where 56% of voters want to remain in the EU, is that some who were traditionally opposed to Irish reunification but who desired to remain within the EU have become more open to a closer and new relationship with the rest of Ireland. This is welcome and it is an important and crucial part of the debate on what Ireland and its relationships could look like in future and in any new configuration that comes.
A national conversation is required to discuss a new Ireland and what it could look like socially, economically, politically and culturally. I call on the Irish Government to start to prepare talks in this regard. How can we work together to ensure we build equality and prosperity for all on this island, not least our many rural communities and deprived communities? How can we approach collectively issues, including health, tourism, infrastructure, structural inequality and housing, to name but a few? How can our cities across the island deliver in this regard? We all need to be assured that a new Ireland with new relationships will be a secure and prosperous place to live with equality at the core of its foundations. Unionists, in particular, need assurance that any constitutional change will not threaten their standard of living or British identity. As evidenced by the letter published in the Irish News this week, Irish citizens in the North need reassurance that their rights, identity and entitlements will also be protected and upheld. A positive expression of this advance will be the holding of next year's referendum on presidential voting rights for many like me and the thousands of Irish citizens in my city who want to play their part in electing their Uachtarán. I wish the House well in its endeavours to make this a reality. In that regard, I congratulate President Michael D. Higgins on his re-election. We have his portrait in the parlour in Belfast City Hall and I wish him well in his term of office.
The partition of Ireland is almost 100 years old. It not only separated us geographically though the Border; it separated us from each other in our minds and in how we think about the society in which we grew up after 1921. Progress is being made to overcome this particular mindset and there is no doubt that my presence here is a good example of that. Thinking outside our respective 1921 state boundaries is a challenge for all of us but the lesson from the peace process and the remarkable changes throughout this island prove, in the words of Nelson Mandela, that the impossible always seems impossible until it is done. My role as Mayor of Belfast is to ensure we build on the links established and continue to build on the relationships and trust which are crucial. Our memorandum recognises that a significant proportion of the future economic growth of the island of Ireland will occur along the eastern corridor. Our developing cities are the pillars which will uphold that corridor. We want to see that growth used to benefit our communities and those communities beyond our city boundaries, not least the long-forgotten communities in the west. It is my firm and passionate belief that a strong and vibrant Belfast will do what it must to make this happen. We are up for the engagement and for the collaboration and partnership work with the Members of the House, Dublin City Council and other local authorities right across the island.
We must continue to build on the memorandum of understanding and to do so effectively. We have been working hard to develop and grow our city, boosting the opportunities available through collaboration. I want to continue to boost our efforts to attract and expand trade and investment along the economic corridor. We will work in tandem on the continuing development of our cities and with other towns and cities. We must sell all of Ireland together. We must showcase ourselves as part of a vibrant ecosystem and as a single investment location in which we are all part of the same proposition so that all of our people feel the benefit of the resulting growth. We want to continue to break down barriers to travel, promoting intercity tourists and non-tourists alike. We want to encourage the movement of students and greater collaboration to encourage visitors to see a combined and attractive offer. Ireland is changing for the better. The North of Ireland and Belfast City Council are part of that change. The common denominator of this change is the desire of people to live in a more equal, prosperous, secure, fair and respectful society. Whether at council, regional or state level, it is our job as political activists to marry people's aspirations with the institutions which govern their lives. We can do that. I thank the Members for the opportunity to come to the House to speak and for their continued commitment to harnessing this relationship. I look forward to developing future links and invite all Members to visit Béal Feirste soon.
I thank the Lord Mayor for a very in-depth speech. I was greatly impressed on my visit to Belfast at the transformation which has taken place in the city since the peace process commenced. A sister of mine who is in a religious order lived in west Belfast for ten years while my eldest sister, who emigrated when I was a baby, married a Belfast man and they lived in New York. Unfortunately, he was killed in an industrial accident many years ago. I was also greatly impressed by my welcome in the city.
I will now call Members to speak. I apologise that proceedings have run late due to circumstances beyond our control. The first speaker is Senator Ardagh. I remind the House that there is no sharing time. Group spokespersons have five minutes and the second speaker from the same party or group will have three minutes.
Cuirim fáilte mór roimh an Ard-Mhéara as ucht Fianna Fáil. Is lá stairiúil é. Ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas a dhéanamh leis an Ard-Mhéara as an chéad bhean sa ról. Today is historic and it is great that the Lord Mayor has been able to address the Seanad. Having done some research on her, I see that she has done a great deal of work on women's rights and that she supports marriage equality. She has done a great deal of work to protect the Good Friday Agreement, to which she is strongly committed. I was 16 years old when the Agreement was entered into and I remember going through it line by line with my late father. In the wake of Brexit, all our sentiments and rhetoric must be directed to ensuring the Good Friday Agreement does not break down. We must do everything possible to mitigate any fallout from Brexit.
The Lord Mayor spoke about creating stronger cultural bonds and links between both our cities. She spoke passionately about Belfast and I would like to think I have the same commitment to and passion for my own city of Dublin. I am born and bred a Dub. I have visited the Lord Mayor's beautiful city and would love to see it again. We would all be delighted to visit its council chamber and I thank her for that invitation. The Lord Mayor referred to a commitment from various banks, including State Street Bank. She might note on her way out today that downstairs in Leinster House 2000, the Fearless Girl statue, which was commissioned by that bank, is here. It is very fitting to have it here today, especially as Ms Hargey is the first female Lord Mayor of Belfast. It characterises the day that is in it and it is a very nice piece. We commend the Lord Mayor's work on reconciliation and on working with the various groups in Northern Ireland. The Fianna Fáil women's group had strong ties with councillors in Northern Ireland and did a good deal of travelling to and from Northern Ireland, which is perhaps something we could resurrect. There is much merit in continuing the relationships between council members and politicians North and South, not just at senior levels but at every level of political life. I thank the Lord Mayor for coming to the Seanad today and congratulate her.
I welcome the Lord Mayor on this historic occasion. She is the first Lord Mayor of Belfast, and the first female Sinn Féin Lord Mayor, to address this House.
Belfast is one of my favourite cities in the world. It offers so much. I agree with most of what the Lord Mayor said earlier. I would recommend anyone from any part of the world to visit the Titanic centre. It is an amazing exhibition. The level of customer care one gets in a hotel in Belfast is excellent. I have had personal experience of how far the staff in some hotels are prepared to go to ensure guests get the full Belfast welcome, and the Belfast fry-----
-----is something to behold. I wish we could have a little of that down here.
I am looking at the Lord Mayor's manifesto and I am particularly struck by her interest in women's needs and the desire to ensure the health of women in a just society and encouraging trust of women. I am particularly concerned about the mental health of women from the distant past on all sides of the traditions in Northern Ireland. Siobhán Fenton wrote an excellent book, which I read during the summer, on the Good Friday Agreement. One of the areas she said has yet to be dealt with is the mental health issues of women in particular who were victims of the Troubles. In welcoming the Lord Mayor to Dublin, I ask that she would make that a special interest across all communities. There were women who suffered badly through no fault of their own and I ask her to take that issue on board.
On same-sex marriage, I learned recently on a visit to Northern Ireland that across the community, up to the age of 40 or 45, nobody seems to have a problem with same-sex marriage. I ask the Lord Mayor to keep that wheel moving in the direction in which it is going. Nobody died in this part of the jurisdiction when we brought in marriage equality, and it brought great happiness to families that had been waiting years to see relationships between their children regularised in a proper marital relationship. I am delighted to see that, and I know the Leader, who is in the Chamber, can speak for that also.
Irish-language rights is an issue that confuses me greatly. Linda Ervine is doing tremendous work in Northern Ireland in terms of the teaching and understanding of the Irish language. I had great pleasure visiting her centre earlier in the year. I will be honest and say I was somewhat embarrassed that my level of Irish was not sufficiently good to communicate with the people in that centre. The Irish language is the property of the people of Ireland, not any particular jurisdiction, religion or group. It belongs to all of us. It is part of our heritage, but I recognise that Scots Gaelic is also part of the heritage of Northern Ireland and recognising that is extremely important. I commend the Lord Mayor on wanting to bring the language forward.
I am somewhat dismayed at the lack of an assembly in Northern Ireland. We need an assembly to come together and if there is anything the Lord Mayor can do, as a senior member of the Sinn Féin Party, to ensure that happens, I would ask her to do that.
I acknowledge her interest in the rights of Travellers. My colleague, Senator Ruane, and her colleagues in the Civic Engagement group are working to bring forward a Bill to ensure that Traveller culture is brought into the syllabus of the Irish education system.
On workers' rights, I come from a trade union background and, unfortunately, the zero-hours contract is the latent aspect of what was very positive legislation from Europe. We see workers in all jurisdictions being crucified with zero-hours contracts. They must sit at home and wait for the phone to ring. I commend the Lord Mayor on taking that as one of her manifesto issues and sincerely hope she will have success in ending this curse of the exploitation of workers in all areas of this country, not just in the North of Ireland.
On the right to housing, the Lord Mayor stated there are 10,000 people in Belfast waiting for a house. One person in Belfast waiting for a house is a tragedy; 10,000 is unacceptable. We have the same problem at this end.
On class-based disadvantage, I did not start out with a silver spoon in my mouth. We have worked hard in this part of the world to end class-based disadvantage. Sadly, it is a feature of life on the island of Ireland, not just in the North, and it is an issue on which we must work hard.
On Brexit, none of us on this island wants Brexit. I wrote an article the day after the referendum advising that there will be a need to manage a border on this island. I know that is repugnant to the Lord Mayor and to anybody who wants free travel in this country. I want that, but I cannot see any way a third country will have an open border with the European Union and until such time as I am convinced otherwise, that will remain my view. For that reason alone, it is vitally important that the Lord Mayor is in the Seanad today and that she maintains relationships with all the mayors in the Republic and in the North of Ireland. Brexit is the one issue that can tear this island apart again and bring us back to times none of us wants to revisit. I ask the Lord Mayor to do everything she can to ensure that, irrespective of whether it is a hard, soft or any other kind of Brexit, whatever else we do, we maintain our relationships and continue to work together to try to understand each other better.
I welcome the Lord Mayor to Dublin and thank her for her time.
The Lord Mayor is very welcome to the Seanad today. As she rightly said, it is an historic and symbolic occasion. The Seanad is much richer for having the Lord Mayor here and we need more of these new engagements and relationships.
I was thinking about Belfast and Dublin 100 years ago. One hundred years ago, Belfast was a larger city than Dublin but Dublin now has three times the population of Belfast. What has happened in Belfast in the 20 years since the Good Friday Agreement, and in the island of Ireland, has been truly significant. We must protect and enhance all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement.
I live in Boyle, County Roscommon, in the west. In terms of our links, 100 years ago Boyle was the home of the Connaught Rangers. It is a little known fact that 1,000 young men from nationalist Catholic west Belfast joined the Connaught Rangers to go to fight in the First World War. The 6th Connaught Rangers Research Group did a great deal of good work on that. I was not aware of that history until I became Chairman of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. At the time, the island of Ireland was effectively a single unit in the British Empire but 200,000 people from the island of Ireland went to fight in the First World War, 50,000 of whom died. Thirty thousand of those young men were from the Republic and we did not recognise the sacrifices they made, although in some ways we have come of age in that regard in recent years.
I want to pay tribute to Deputy Crowe of Sinn Féin who, as Irish Co-Chair of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, was in Westminster with fellow colleagues and laid a wreath with his British Co-Chair, Andrew Rosindell, MP. That was a hugely significant moment and I want to thank the Lord Mayor and the other people involved for making those gestures. They are not easy to make but they are very welcome.
My grandfather was from Boyle. One hundred years ago, he was on trial in Belfast courthouse for republican activities.Those links between my area and Belfast were the same. My point is that we are in a much better space. I thank everyone for making those sacrifices .
With regard to tourism, the island of Ireland under Tourism Ireland is incredible. In this regard, I often refer to the two Ts. When I go to the Titanic museum, I hear the voices of people from the Republic who would never have had any intention of going to Northern Ireland or Belfast but the Titanic museum gave them a reason to do that. I have visited Tayto Park twice and the situation is the same there in that I can see the number of people from the North who come down here because of the park. Those two facilities-----
I could not say. In any case, it is a new relationship. The Seanad is much richer because of the experience and the views of the two Northern Senators, Niall Ó Donnghaile, who brings a nationalist perspective, and Ian Marshall, who brings a unionist perspective. This is very significant and symbolic, and they are very valued Members of the Seanad.
Brexit brings its challenges but I hope there will also be great opportunities. I hope we will get a resolution in the coming weeks but there cannot be a border on the island of Ireland because, as Eamonn McCann rightly said, the people will tear it down with their own hands. While I am not being vindictive, that is the truth. We cannot allow a border on the island of Ireland. I hope we will have some resolution that pleases everybody in the coming weeks.
As Members will be aware, I am one of those who feels we should have more association with the Commonwealth of Nations. Some 70% of the people born on the island of Ireland reside in Commonwealth countries. It is not the British Commonwealth. If we want an agreed Ireland, we have to show leadership in facing up to this. The Republic of Ireland has asked for observer status in the Francophonie, which is a little known fact. The Francophonie is the French commonwealth. That is a very strategic move. I believe that, as a country, we must lead and we must show ourselves as leaders around the world.
The Lord Mayor is more than welcome. I am delighted she is here today. The Seanad is much the better for her visit.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Leas-Chathaoirleach. Cuirim fáilte croíúil roimh mo chara agus mo chéadsaoránach, an Comhairleoir Deirdre Hargey anseo go dtí Seanad Éireann inniu. Lá stairiúil agus suntasach dúinne mar atá ráite. Lá freisin chun tús a chur le caidreamh agus obair dhearfach idir Chomhairle Cathrach Bhéal Feirste agus mo dhuine anseo i Seanad Éireann. Tá an tUasal Hargey ag cur tús leis an sarobair sin agus í i láthair inniu agus mar a deirtear sa seanfhocal: "tús maith leath na hoibre".
I want to extend a céad míle fáilte to my friend, Councillor Deirdre Hargey, Árdmhéara Bhéal Feirste, on this very special occasion. She is most welcome. It is very unusual for us to speak to each other in these illustrious circumstances and it has been a while since we have been in the one elected chamber together. It is good to see her.
I will read from notes today, which the Chair will appreciate is not my common position. However, given the significance of the day, I am probably better sticking to the script. The Lord Mayor would expect no less.
It has been said she is the first mayor of Belfast to address a sitting of the Seanad, and I know how important and special that is to her and to Belfast City Council. Other colleagues have rightly acknowledged the presence of Belfast City Council CEO, Suzanne Wylie, another champion for the new and better Belfast. I also extend my thanks and appreciation, through the Leas-Chathaoirleach, to the Cathaoirleach, the Leader of the Seanad and the other Seanadoirí who made this visit possible.
I think we all get it. We all appreciate, not least given the climate we are in, the significance and importance of having such a visit today. Today is one of those days when the Seanad and we, as Members, can display the leadership this nation and its people need. Today, the Seanad is a warm house for the people Deirdre represents in Belfast City Council, the Nationalist and Unionist people and the increasing number of people our city welcomes from a range of different political, cultural, ethnic and linguistic backgrounds. In Deirdre, that changing, diverse and wonderfully authentic Belfast are all represented in this Chamber today. Today, the Seanad is a microcosm of Ireland and also of Ireland’s diverse and rich tapestry of people. We are a shared institution, one that welcomes people, voices and views which do not always get the chance to be heard, but which can be heard through our Seanad.
This is very important because Ireland is in transition, shaped by a process, in particular a political process, with the Irish Government in a central and lead role, as is required by today’s political circumstances and citizens' expectations. Deirdre’s presence and the presence of Seanadóir Marshall and, indeed, my own contribution here, demonstrate the importance of this institution to the people of the North. Only this week, 1,000 people from many influential backgrounds in the North appealed directly to the Taoiseach to protect and guarantee their rights and the rights of all of the people of the North, including those who want to leave the EU, in this most precarious period around Brexit. As touched on by Senator Craughwell, this includes the people Deirdre has committed to championing during her term in office - those who want an Acht na Gaeilge, want marriage equality, access to proper and appropriate healthcare for women and access to truth and legacy mechanisms. I commend the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste for their positive response to the recent appeal from the North and their repeated assurance that the people of the North will never again be abandoned. We know political and civic leaders like Deirdre will hold them to account in that regard.
The Seanad has clearly shown today a very good example of what this assurance can mean in practice. I assure the Leas-Chathaoirleach that the people of Belfast and across the North are delighted by what they see occurring here today. The Seanad and the Dáil are important institutions in the lives of the people of this State but they are also very important institutions for the people of the North. The presence of the Árdmhéara and her speech reflect that reality but they also reflect the changing realities of our city and the demands from the people there. I am inspired by the theme for her time in office - empowerment, equality and prosperity - universal sentiments that all of us in political and civic life should aspire to seeing realised fully. Stronger links between all the institutions on this island which serve our citizens and help to govern people’s lives make sense on many fronts, not least on the economic front. We can see from the emphasis in Deirdre’s speech just how important both of our main councils in Dublin and Belfast will be, working together for the people who live along the eastern corridor and the positive reverberations that can be felt from that throughout Ireland. This economic collaboration is important at any time but it is particularly important in this crisis-driven Brexit period. Considered, agreed and implemented island-wide, economic co-operation will go some way to restoring confidence in local, regional and State economies at this time of deep uncertainty.
There is a phrase in Irish: ní neart go cur le chéile – strength in unity. That strength in unity is evident in the Seanad with Deirdre’s presence today. Again, go raibh céad míle maith agat. I thank her and the Seanad. Like other Seanadoirí, I believe her presence is timely, given, as Senator Ardagh noted, the location of the Fearless Girl statute here. She is a fearless girl, she is a fearless woman, she is fearless republican, she is a fearless Market woman and a fearless Árdmhéara. We thank her for her contribution and her work, and we wish her every success in the time ahead. I assure her we will take her up on the invitation to continue and build upon that engagement between her elected institution and this one, between our own city and Dublin. Go raibh céad míle maith agat on behalf of the Sinn Féin group.
I welcome the Lord Mayor and thank her sincerely for her historic address. Given my own family background in north Antrim, I am deeply passionate about the North of Ireland and I am happy to see sustained engagement between these Houses and Belfast. I have a huge soft spot for Belfast. It is an amazing city – vibrant, musical and full of life, energy, humour and complexity.To have the Lord Mayor here today to speak to us is a really positive step and one I would like to see continued.
My experience of Belfast has involved performing there many times. I have performed at the West Belfast Festival and in the opera house there and I have wonderful memories.
These initiatives are particularly important at a time of deep political uncertainty and particularly with Brexit looming. I am privileged to be a member of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement as well as the Seanad Special Select Committee on the Withdrawal of the UK from the EU. This has been a focus of mine over the past year and it really breaks my heart that so much of our time and of our social and political energy is being spent on defending against the impact of Brexit, time that should be spent on the wonderful social and cultural potential that exists in our cities. We all realise how important it is and it is right that we make it a priority.
Britain's decision to leave the European Union and the reckless pursuit of a hard Brexit by many of those in leadership roles has put serious pressure on the Good Friday Agreement. I firmly believe elected representatives need to show dedication, bravery and unwavering commitment to protecting it. We talk of progress on a final deal ahead of the March 2019 deadline. We cannot accept those who speak flippantly about the Good Friday Agreement when one considers the progress it has brought and the absolute necessity of avoiding a hard border. Thankfully, this is one of those issues on which we see unanimous support across the Houses of the Oireachtas. On this point I want to give credit to the Government and, in particular, the Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, for his work during the Brexit negotiations. A legally operable backstop fully supported by the European Union is vital to protecting peace on our shared island. That point has been made clearly and coherently and I am positive that we will see it reflected in any final deal.
One of the more positive and inspiring aspects of our work on the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement has been our outreach to community groups in east and west Belfast and we have gone on many trips there and it has been an amazing experience. It has had a great impact on the committee's membership. I found it especially moving as someone who has spent so many years in the community sector. The work that has been carried out on peace and reconciliation, the slow ordinary everyday work, the process of reaching out across divides and pushing for co-operation is deeply inspiring and a real cause for hope. The RISE Foundation in which I work has run cross-Border, cross-community programmes. To be involved in that has been an incredible experience, watching cross-community work, particularly around mental health issues, and cross-Border work, where people from the South have listened to stories from both communities, the reality of what it was like during the conflict, and the legacy of the mental health issues that have come out of the conflict with addiction, depression and anxiety. At the end of the day, people have to deal with these issues on an equal basis.
This draws on the bigger and broader aspects of the Good Friday Agreement, recognising that it is not just a political or diplomatic agreement and that it is an aspirational document outlining a vision for a transformed and shared society. When we saw the huge turnout and support for it 20 years ago right across this island, it was not just a vote for peace. It was a vote for regeneration, opportunity, empowerment and co-operation and for an improvement to the basic material conditions of everyday life. It was an endorsement of a society that protects the rights of all citizens and how that can help provide the education, employment, healthcare and housing needed for human dignity and flourishing. As elected representatives, this is something we must remember. We need to recognise how much work still needs to be done to deliver on these aspirations. I have raised this issue in this Chamber. I attended an event in St. Mary's in Belfast earlier this year and I was struck by some of the contributions, particularly one from a young member of the LGBT community. He spoke so passionately about the barriers and discrimination that still exist and the need for greater equality. It is a message that should resonate in Dublin and in Belfast and I am glad to see young people leading that change. All across Ireland we are seeing a new generation of young people who are more willing than ever to stand up for their rights and to drive social change and I met many of them in Belfast.
Under the Good Friday Agreement, the European Convention on Human Rights was incorporated into domestic law into the North of Ireland, prohibiting discrimination on a wide array of grounds. In 2010, it was joined by the Charter on Fundamental Rights of the European Union with a particularly important focus on workers rights, socio-economic support and anti-discrimination. These are hard-won vital protections that must be enjoyed equally by every person on this island, in Dublin, in Belfast and everywhere else. It is a point I have made consistently as a member of the Good Friday committee but it bears repeating. If Brexit means a repeal of the Human Rights Act which underpins these protections in the North, then we must ensure that it does not bring any reduction whatsoever in terms of human rights standards. The protections that exist must continue, be legally enforceable and be equivalent on both sides of the Border.
Occasions like this give us an opportunity to make that point firmly, so I am very grateful that the Lord Mayor is here today to draw upon the historic and hugely positive links between Dublin and Belfast and to reaffirm our commitment to continuing them. The Lord Mayor has given such a wonderful account of the city she loves and I would like to thank her most sincerely as a Member of Seanad Éireann agus gabhaim míle buíochas di and congratulations.
I welcome the Lord Mayor and I very much appreciate her taking time out of here very busy schedule to be here. I am a former Lord Mayor of Cork. There are only three cities that have that title, Belfast, Dublin and Cork. I am delighted the Lord Mayor is here as the role of Lord Mayor is about providing leadership right across the community. I know that she has been doing that since she has been elected to office. It is important that we work together on that role. We need to do much more on a joint approach between Northern Ireland and the Republic in terms of exchanges between local communities in different cities, with the farming, business communities, tourism and sport. We have made much progress over the last 25 to 30 years on that issue but we can do much more, especially with younger people.
When the Washington programme was set up young people from the Protestant and nationalist communities spent a period of time in Washington working together. It is something we should try to establish here, involving young people from Dublin and Cork and cities across Northern Ireland. It is a very educational and helpful and is something we should work on.
A number of years ago I was involved in an exchange between political groups in Northern Ireland and my area in Cork and it was very effective in understanding the difficulties and different challenges we face. Many of the challenges are the same in different parts of the country.
It is important to recognise how important the role of the Lord Mayor of Cork is. We lost two Lord Mayors in 1920. Tomás Mac Curtain was shot in his own home on the orders of the RIC and Terence MacSwiney who succeeded him and who died while on hunger strike in Brixton Prison. They were two tragedies for Cork but they showed the respect for the job of Lord Mayor of Cork city. One of the legacies Terence MacSwiney left was that while he was Lord Mayor, he visited every school in the city. That is a legacy that has remained to this day and it provides a huge opportunity for young people to engage with the political process. It is something we should develop in other areas, namely, that direct connection between those elected and young people as they come through the system. If one goes to school in Cork city, by the time one is finished in education, one has met 14 Lord Mayors. It is a huge opportunity for people to engage and it is something we should encourage.
I am delighted that the Lord Mayor of Belfast is here and I thank her for the work she has done to date as Lord Mayor and I wish her well for the remaining term of her office.
Cuirim fáilte Uí Cheallaigh roimh Ard-Mhéara Bhéal Feirste, Comhairleoir Hargey. Tréaslaím leis an Seanadóir Ó Donnghaile a chur an rún seo chun cinn. I welcome the mayor wholeheartedly to the Chamber and I compliment my colleague, Senator Ó Donnghaile, who put the matter forward in the first place. Such communication, conversation and association between us is very welcome. I am delighted to get such a positive report from our Cathaoirleach, Senator O'Donovan, from his trip north, and I hope Ms Hargey will find her visit to us equally rewarding. She referred to the great progress that has been made in her native city of Belfast. There is no question or doubt about it that it is wonderful to see that beautiful city of Belfast coming back proud, buoyant and forward-looking, mainly, in our time, as a result of the cessation of violence. People from the South who did not go north during the Troubles are taking advantage of the peace process to visit not only Belfast but all of the Six Counties. I do so regularly. I have very fond memories of Belfast from when I was in education. I had close associations with the teacher training college in St. Joseph's. I have relations in Enniskillen. It is a beautiful town. It is certainly the jewel of the North of Ireland and I would like to see that continue.
I am delighted to hear the mayor say she is working hard for reconciliation because that is the most important part of her work. We have seen examples of reconciliation in the South and in the North and we need to see more of it. I was talking to Senator Marshall just before we came in and telling him that my own town of Listowel, in the height of the Troubles, was twinned with Downpatrick. We had many guests. The mayors of Downpatrick tended to be either unionists or occasionally from the SDLP. We found out that they did not have horns on their heads and they found out that we were okay. They have a racetrack and we have a racetrack. We were able to build on that in a small way.
The mayor has a huge responsibility insofar as she has a high profile in elected office in the North where there is a political vacuum and political wilderness. This is not the occasion to attribute blame and I will not attribute blame except to say that neither side is blameless for that. We want them in the Assembly and I know Ms Hargey would want to see that restored immediately. We do not have nationalist representation in Westminster and 100 years ago, Joseph Devlin represented Belfast Falls and 100 years later, it is sad to say that we have no one over there at a crucial time for Brexit. It has never been more important. Our former President, Mary Robinson, warned yesterday that she is fearful about a resurgence of violence in the North if a hard border comes back. I mentioned that here two weeks ago and was shouted down about it by certain quarters. It is an issue which we have to be careful about and work together on. The mayor's visit is a good day's work and she is welcome.
I welcome Ms Hargey and congratulate her on her powerful, historic address. My colleague from the Civil Engagement Group, of which I am a leader, spoke very clearly about the vote taken on the Good Friday Agreement being a choice made not simply for peace and political solutions but for community engagement and co-operation, rights, and a vision of society at the time. I will perhaps begin with the point at which she ended her contribution. It is important that we are clear on all of those pillars of the Good Friday Agreement which she spoke about, especially the commitment on rights and the mechanisms relating to the vindication and protection of human rights and the rights of all those across this island. The equivalence of human rights in that commitment is important. I am glad to see in the Brexit negotiations that the key pillar of human rights, which has been somewhat to the side, is now entering centre stage. It is appropriate when we are at the anniversary of the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland.
It is good to see that we are not simply looking backwards with regard to rights but looking forward. As Ms Hargey mentioned, even in the shadow of difficult challenges and changed imposed by Brexit, we see positive change being talked about and positive demands for constructive futures. It is important to recognise that some of those changes will be very positive with regard to issues such as access to reproductive rights, equality of outcome and not just opportunity, and marriage equality. It is positive to see that we have co-operation from this House with Members of Parliament such as Stella Creasy and others in the UK and with many activists in movements in Northern Ireland to ensure that we take the commitment to rights seriously.
The equivalence with regard to human rights is something we will want to see matched with equivalence in the environment and in employment standards. I can tell from Ms Hargey's speech that she is not simply looking at the idea of equivalence and to ensure that the European standards which have been met will continue to be met for everybody in these areas but that she is ambitious for what the standards might be and what we might do for our societies. I love the idea of Belfast, Dublin and the other cities on this island working together to raise standards in these areas of sustainability, employment and a decent society. We should have our ambition there.
Ms Hargey spoke of the many connections. There are connections, aside from the political and even in times of political uncertainty, in sport, education, unions and the civic connection which Ms Hargey spoke about. She reached out to other cities and both urban and rural communities. It was very moving that she spoke not only of Belfast but the area around it, and the relationship a city has with the rural communities around it. Lastly, I want to speak to the cultural and historical connection. I am a member of the Vótáil 100 committee and we are at the centenary of suffrage. We had Winifred Carney in the North and Constance Markievicz, who were ground-breaking at that time, as Ms Hargey has been ground-breaking as mayor. I look forward to commemorating these issues in a way that is positive and empowering and to working with Ms Hargey to paint a picture for a future of that co-operation across the past, through the difficulties of the present, and to paint an ambitious picture for the future, for all of us on our island. I look forward to further co-operation. I thank Ms Hargey for joining us.
I commend the Cathaoirleach of this House on his work to establish this important series of events that will see the first citizens from across this island address this House. I welcome the Lord Mayor of Béal Feirste, Deirdre Hargey, to the Chamber. My boyfriend and I regularly spend time in Belfast. It is a city we have great affection towards and which is, from our experience, safe to be open, public and visible. We feel a real sense of belonging there, given its diversity. Despite legislation unreflective of public opinion on the issue of civil marriage equality, our Seanad team regularly visits Belfast. In 2017, Anne McReynolds gave us a tour of the Metropolitan Arts Centre in Belfast and we saw first-hand through her enthusiasm and passion how Belfast elevates and embraces the creativity of its people. Culture and the arts can always be used as a tool to divide. This has been true in the past but culture is constantly evolving. Art is a response to that culture and great or important art eventually becomes our heritage but only the people can decide what is great. This is probably most visible on the walls and in the streets of Belfast where visitors, world-renowned artists, come from across the globe not only to witness this street art but to partake and create.Tourism, the arts, culture and film are significant contributors to the economy. I need not tell the Ardmhéara that conversations are ongoing in the Twenty-six Counties about directly elected mayors for cities such as Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway. There is a responsibility on all of us who embrace the ideas of republicanism to ensure that decision-making rests as close as possible to the lives of citizens, and that means stronger local authorities. It has always struck me that Belfast City Council prides itself on renewal, on openness and on listening to the changing dynamics of the city.
There has been a mayor of Belfast since 1842. For right or wrong, the Seanad has always been a link between national and local politics and often has been composed of voices from the unionist tradition. Today is an important coming together of the political system. Long may it continue.
Déanaim comhghairdeas leis an Ardmhéara. It is a great pleasure to welcome the Lord Mayor of Belfast to the House today. I apologise for not being here earlier due to various other issues around the ordering of the Seanad business.
It is great to see the Seanad welcoming in a Lord Mayor from a different city. I hope we will continue to do so. I note this is the start of a series of engagements we will have with lords mayor from other cities, Dublin and Cork, but I hope also Galway, Limerick and, indeed, Waterford, my father's own home city. I would like us to continue this engagement, to extend it beyond Ms Deirdre Hargey, as we are already agreeing to do, and to ensure that all parties and Independents are represented also in this. It is important that we do this as part of our civic engagement.
I apologise again that I was not here earlier. It is a welcome testament, though, to the success of this sort of event that it has gone on beyond the planned time.
I, too, warmly welcome the Lord Mayor here today, and, indeed, her chief executive, Ms Suzanne Wylie.
Members have referred to Brexit and the enormous challenges it will present for this island, North and South. I am honoured to be a member of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly and the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs, both of which played important roles in considering and informing debate on the Good Friday Agreement, on cross-Border co-operation and Brexit.
Since its establishment in 1990, the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly has contributed to British-Ireland relations and the bonds forged at the assembly will be more crucial than ever if we are to ensure an orderly Brexit for everyone involved. Our members will continue to build upon those relationships and work to protect bilateral relations. Through these parliamentary fora, politicians from all walks of life nurture and strengthen relationships on an east-west and North-South basis.
I agree with the Cathaoirleach that the peace process was one of the greatest achievements of our time and one which must be protected. Our relationship with our UK counterparts is vital and it is through open and honest dialogue that we will get through these difficult times.
I thank Ms Deirdre Hargey for her interesting address to this House today and wish her well in her tenure as Lord Mayor of Belfast. Gabhaim buíochas leí.
Ms Deirdre Hargey:
First, I thank all the Members again for sharing their personal stories and words of encouragement. I hope this stands us in good stead in the months and years to come of harnessing and developing the relationships. If Brexit has taught us anything, it is to really focus on having those relationships. Creating those relationships and building on the trust is fundamental because at the end, it will be to the benefit of all citizens right across the island.
To reflect, Brexit and the Border is a massive issue. It is on the tip of everyone's tongue every single day, in my city and right across the island. The Good Friday Agreement is fundamental in the sense that it was a referendum in which all people across the island voted overwhelming for that peace agreement. Growing up and living in a city that has been torn apart by political conflict and division, I can see the massive benefits of that agreement even in these short 20 years. As someone with a background of reconciliation work with former combatants and with communities that are segregated and divided, I am aware that the absence of armed conflict does not always result in peace and one must build the peace. The consequences of Brexit could unravel that. I do not say that lightly but there are massive concerns because the peace process is in its infancy. It is a young process, only 20 years in the making. The process is something that is held in international regard but we still need to nurture it and Brexit could have a massive detrimental impact on it.
As a city that is trying to move forward, and I know that is shared right across the island, this is a big concern, particularly for our young people in the time ahead. When we are looking to grow the economy, we do not want to chase away that young talent. We want to retain it, within our cities and within our communities as well.
I stress again the crucial role of the Irish Government and the Seanad in representing people, right across the North and across the island, but particularly being wedded to the Good Friday Agreement as a co-guarantor. I was thinking back when somebody spoke in terms of the image of a place. I thought back to the Carrickdale Hotel, just right at the Border, prior to the Good Friday Agreement, where I attended a team-building residential meeting with a number of women's organisations from right across the North. At that point, there were still army checkpoints in south Armagh. One could see them from the Carrickdale Hotel. I remember sitting in the hotel that night. Two residents from just beyond Dublin came up to stay in the hotel and when they realised there was a British army checkpoint or station post on the mountain, they checked out that night because they were so fearful of going near the North. We do not want to go back to those times. It has taken us 20 years to change the international image of the city and society and we do not want anything that will set us back.
I listened closely to the points regarding the Commonwealth of Nations. When one is starting to look at what a new Ireland could look like, all options must be on the table. All options need to be discussed. We need to look at what brings most of the people right across the island together, including those who are unionists particularly, nationalists and those who do not assign to anything. All those options need to be discussed and on the table.
In terms of retaining relationships post Brexit, it is crucial, no matter what the outcome, for us to focus and build on the relationships even more to ensure we are building strong foundations for whatever comes in the time ahead. I have met the mayors of both Dublin and Cork over recent months in this post, predominantly in respect of remembrance events at Islandbridge, as well as when the Pope came to Ireland. I agree with the comments that we need to move beyond those events, in terms of looking at social implications and economic connections of our cities and really starting to forge and build links around those key issues.
I also will meet the Lord Mayor of Dublin later today to build on the memorandum of understanding we have between our two cities. In respect of infrastructure, we are considering a high-speed rail connection between Belfast and Dublin. A feasibility study is being looked at, the local authorities that span the corridor between Belfast and Dublin have put funding into it and I would like to come back to give the Seanad updates. That is only one example of the growth and connection that we can look at.
We want to retain our connections with Europe as well. That is critical to us, as an island. I will be representing Belfast - other cities across the island will attend - at the Eurocities conference in Edinburgh at the end of this month where there will be a conversation on the role of cities in emerging social, political and economical life. Indeed, I would encourage any of the other cities across the island to attend that conference.I am always open to further engagement with them.
The issue of rights is something that is very much to the fore of why the institutions have not been re-established and has also seen thousands of people take to the streets in front of the building in which I sit, City Hall, in recent years, whether these rights are in language, LGBT, marriage equality, women or those around legacy and dealing with the past. These are not orange and green issues, which is critical. We cannot just pigeon hole them or sectarianise them into orange and green issues. Rights are international, they are universal and impact on all citizens. This is a conversation we need to have. The one reason I launched a mayor’s charter on rights in the city was to lift that debate. One critical factor in the Good Friday Agreement was the introduction of a bill of rights, but this is still yet to materialise. Had that been introduced, many of these issues that people in my city are out on the streets campaigning about would have been covered by this. I want to play my part in working with those organisations. I will launch it on 10 December which is Human Rights Day and the 70th anniversary of the signing of the charter. That will examine various issues around women and mental health, which was touched on, which is a massive issue. More people in the North have died by suicide since the Good Friday Agreement was signed than all those who died as a result of the political conflict. That is a vast issue that we must address.
Looking at gender, the British Government has not signed up to UN Resolution 1325, there is no action plan for the North around women’s issues or gender principles around female representation in politics, on bodies, mental health or community participation which is another thing that we need to encourage. The British Government needs to sign up to these. The Irish Government is implementing these action plans but there is a vacuum in the North where it is probably needed most. Any influence that can be brought to bear in this would be crucial.
I now turn to reconciliation. The Connaught Rangers is one area. I have done much work in Belfast City Council and in the city on the need for remembrance and addressing the decade of centenaries. Belfast City Council adopted a very positive approach. After the election in 2011 we agreed a set of principles because we knew that the decade of centenaries was coming. These included the Battle of the Somme, the 1916 Easter Rising, the signing of the Ulster Covenant, to name but a few, that could have heightened tensions or led to conflict on the streets of Belfast. I am glad to say that all the political parties in Belfast City Council, across the spectrum, signed up to a set of principles in which we could mark all those occasions and look at them in their wider context, looking at them through perspectives of gender and class and from an international perspective. Something that I never thought I would see in my lifetime was Belfast City Council hosting three civic dinners, one to mark the signing of the Ulster Covenant in 1912, and two dinners in 1916, one to mark the Easter Rising and another for the Battle of the Somme.
We are now moving to look at the memorabilia in the building and how it can be made more reflective to ensure that it looks at all backgrounds and narratives. The figure of Winifred Carney well reflects this, for instance, her story, and the complexity of her past is not black and white but more layered and complex. There is my chain of office which features the words "Erin go Bragh" whereas that of the Dublin Lord Mayor features King William. Some seem to think the two were switched but it illustrates the complexity. We have a deep and shared history and one which we all own and we must all own the future. Winifred Carney was an Irish republican from Belfast who was in the GPO in 1916 with James Connolly. Her future husband, George McBride, was a UVF volunteer, an Orangeman also from Belfast who, during 1916, was fighting with the British at the Battle of the Somme. They both returned to Belfast, where they were both trade union activists who worked with the city’s poor and they met, fell in love and were married. It is a beautiful story which goes to sum up the complexity of our past and also gives hope for the future.
Dialogue is the big factor in reconciliation. We need to get to know one another. I see this in Belfast when dealing with interface tension, where communities are at a street that divides the two communities. They do not know each other or the issues that impact the other. We have learned over time that dialogue, getting to know one another and the fact that I am hearing the Members’ perspective here today, and they are hearing mine, may widen our horizons and thoughts, and may push buttons or perceptions that we have. When we get to know each other, that is how we build trust, and that trust is how one can reach agreements and compromises. That is what is needed for the institutions. We need the institutions to be up and running but they must do so on solid foundations. We need to resolve the outstanding issues, particularly the implementation of those around the rights enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement. If that does not happen, people will be outside City Hall demanding their rights.
This is an opportunity. It is historic and as a city and a council we are keen to strengthen our engagements and connections with other towns and cities across the island. We want to look at the tourism and trade potential that lifts the prosperity of all our citizens with inclusive growth which is key. We want to look at infrastructure, roads and train networks. There is nothing to say that if this was achieved between Dublin and Belfast it could not be expanded to Derry to Cork and across to Galway or beyond. We want to look at innovation and research to ensure that when Ireland, as an island, puts itself forward internationally, that we are seen as a real hub of innovation and advanced research and how that has an impact on advanced manufacturing.
Tourism was referred to. There is massive potential in this area. As a city, we want to double our tourism spending by 2020. With Tourism Ireland we have gone to the market as one and went to China on a joint trade mission. The benefits have already been seen in the Chinese market. On educational links, we know that there are many students from Belfast who are studying in Dublin. If the infrastructure was dealt with, there would be nothing to stop them commuting between the two cities. That applies to education and to business.
There is great potential in culture, which could be in areas such as the European Capital of Culture or other cultural programmes, and deepen the understanding of what is offered across the island. We can look at opportunities for how we can collectively promote the island through our cultural offerings. Arts play a critical role in that. There is a campaign in the North called Arts Matter, which emphasises the impact of the arts and investment. This is something we want to build on because as well as its social and economic impact, it also has an impact on building reconciliation, the peace process and using art as a way of breaking down barriers or fears and perceptions.
The opportunity is there to use our cities to make those connections and look at the inclusion of the surrounding areas so that they also feel the benefit. We are doing this for our young people, for the next generation, for those who have talent and aspirations to ensure that they have a future and that it is on the island of Ireland.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Leas-Chathaoirleach, an Ard Mhéara, na comhairleoirí agus na Seanadóirí. Mar fhocal scoir, gabhaim fíorbhuíochas leis an Ard-Mhéara as ucht an dá óráid iontach agus stairiúil. Bhí siad an-siombalach.In welcoming and thanking the Lord Mayor, I will not delay the House further, as we have heard many speeches. I actually thought that we had the wrong Member from Belfast in the Chamber,-----
It is important that we welcome the Lord Mayor. In the history of the Seanad allowing people to address us, we have drawn on a large group. In the previous Seanad, the then Cathaoirleach, Senator Paddy Burke, invited Mr. Drew Nelson from the Orange Order to do so. This morning, we have the Lord Mayor of Belfast. I would contend that Cork will always be the second city even when we come together as a country.
It is important that the Lord Mayor's visit be acknowledged, as we are building bridges. It is about ensuring that the voice of everyone, North and South, is heard in this Chamber. The flag behind us - the flag of our country - symbolises all of us, as does the Lord Mayor's presence. I welcome her chief executive and commend everyone else involved on their sterling work in Belfast. Like Senator Warfield, I like visiting Belfast. The Kremlin is one of the best places to be. I do not mean the one in Moscow. It is a wonderful and safe city for those of us of the LGBT community. If we on this part of the island can do something to promote equality, particularly marriage equality, then we have a duty to advance that cause.
As the Lord Mayor stated, this is about collaborating and developing links. It is also about recognising that Belfast has made a significant journey in terms of peace and reconciliation, its economic development and its people. That is to be welcomed. We all recognise that the peace that has been won cannot be taken lightly. The Lord Mayor remarked on engaging with people. I hope that all of us can engage further in ensuring that the peace is cemented for the next generation. None of us wants to return to the days of waking up to news reports of killings on both sides of the divide. We hope those days are gone and will never come back.
The Lord Mayor spoke about the unique quality of the Seanad. She certainly saw part of it before her address in terms of some of the carry-on.
This week, the Tánaiste spoke in the Seanad about Brexit being about more than just economics, in that it was also about the lives of people. The Lord Mayor touched on that in her remarks. As a Government, we have been clear in our position, which has not changed. This is about the North and South being represented by our Government in achieving an outcome from Brexit, whatever that brings. In the European context, "solidarity" does not mean without the North. Rather, it is inclusive of the North.
When we talk about there being no hard border, we mean it.
The Lord Mayor referred to the need for a return of devolved government. Her presence in this Chamber illustrates the importance of politics and democracy and her participation in this debate signifies that politicians get things done. We need a return of devolved government in the North. The DUP, Sinn Féin and the other parties need to get Stormont back up and running. It is important for many reasons, not least of which is equality, but also financially, given that Brexit is impending.
The Lord Mayor has inspired us. She remarked on Belfast being a city of aspiration. Her presence here, her remarks and the charter on equality, empowerment and prosperity bode well for that city. It is lucky to have her; I do not say that patronisingly. To see and hear her in this Chamber has been impressive. I wish her well with the remainder of her tenure. Go n-éirí leat, a Árdmhéara.